Sooner or later, Kobe Bryant turns on everyone in his life. Professional, personal, it's never mattered to him. He can be calculated and merciless this way. When he wants something, it seems everyone's disposable.
So, it is little surprise to discover that, through a source who has spoken with Jerry West, that the Logo is downright livid with Bryant for demanding West's return to the Los Angeles Lakers at the expense of his protégé, Mitch Kupchak.
Maybe there was a chance that West could've come back with the Lakers, but Bryant's self-absorbed and self-destructive crusade to crush Kupchak over Memorial Day weekend has made it far less likely.
Yes, West and Bryant have always shared the bond of cutthroat competitiveness, DNA that demands greatness of themselves and those surrounding them. For both, it has been a blessing and a curse, but it's an undeniable thread that runs through them.
Yet, here's the difference: West is legendarily loyal.
Once West's contract expires with the Grizzlies after the NBA draft, perhaps there had been a possibility that he could return to the Lakers as a consultant. Nothing has been discussed with owner Jerry Buss, the source said, and West issued a statement on Monday night insisting that he would never, ever do anything that would undermine Kupchak.
"Kobe has to turn on everyone at some point, cut people and ties in almost every relationship in his life," a former Bryant associate said Monday. "He turns on people because he believes he's not getting what he deserves. He has a one-track mind that thinks the world revolves around him and doesn't take a second to consider the costs, or what's the best way to handle something.
"This is the same stuff he did with (Shaquille O'Neal). He would leak the story, instigate it and then not understand why it never worked. Shaq is still more beloved than Kobe, and he will always be in L.A. People have seen this all before with Kobe. This never turns out right for him."
Bryant has stayed true to character in this embarrassing episode, going back and forth on his demands over the weekend. First, he ripped Kupchak, insisting that he had been, more or less, incompetent on the job. Then he told ESPN the Magazine that, unless West was brought back to run the Lakers, he wanted a trade. Once that got out, Bryant must have understood he had far overplayed his hand, done devastating damage to the mythical rehabilitation of his image.
He knew he had gone too far. He should've apologized and acknowledged he was out of line talking this way.
Only, he denied saying it, despite the fact that the writer has been a long-time confidant. Typical Kobe, selling out someone else.
"I'm not demanding anything," Bryant told the Riverside Press-Enterprise just after he had spent the weekend demanding everything.
"I'm not trying to throw Mitch under the bus, or (Lakers VP) Jim (Buss) under the bus," he told the Orange County Register just after he just spent the weekend doing just that.
For now, Kupchak loses leverage with his peers while trying to work trades this summer. This isn't the first time Bryant has created this kind of chaos for the franchise. As one NBA executive said Monday: "That made it harder for Mitch to get fair market value for Shaq. Everybody knew that Kobe's conditions to re-sign made it impossible for Shaq to stay, and Mitch had to take the Miami offer, which was the best on the table. Kobe needs to look in the mirror on that one."
Here's something else, too. Kobe thinks everyone in the NBA wants to play with him, and it isn't true. He was complaining that the Lakers could've had his buddy, Carlos Boozer, a year ago, but the Jazz were never going to trade him for Lamar Odom. Yes, there are players who'll take a trade to the Lakers, but make no mistake: It isn’t because they're enamored with the idea of hanging with Kobe.
It isn't just that Kobe doesn't have friends in his own locker room, but elsewhere too. One associate remembers a party for Bryant's daughter several years ago, when he looked around and saw no one but people who worked for Kobe. "No friends, no teammates – just agents, a barber, P.R. people … Everyone there was on the payroll."
Maybe Kupchak hasn't done the best job in the world in these three years post-Shaq (the Caron Butler-Kwame Brown trade crushed the Lakers), but he made sure that private jet flew Kobe back and forth to his rape hearings in Colorado. He made sure the organization supported him unconditionally during that humiliating time for the franchise. His reward? Kobe opted out of his contract, threatened to leave for the Clippers and declared that he wanted a basketball career free of Shaq to indulge his own shooting and scoring desires.
"Now, Kobe would go to the public with his stuff on Shaq, and he would never win," the ex-associate said. "He'd instigate, like he did with Kupchak, and he always comes out looking the same way."
Of course, that's selfish and short-sighted. Bryant wanted to show the world who runs the Lakers again, and that's wonderful and all, except that he's made it harder for the Lakers to get better this summer. Three years ago, he chased out Shaq and Phil Jackson and was granted his wish for a franchise that was all about indulging him.
So sure, West drafted Bryant into the NBA, delivered him O'Neal at center and constructed a three-time champion. What's more, the game's greatest G.M. wisely got out of Los Angeles before Kobe crushed him under his thumb, before West could be a target for Bryant.
He's a smart man to stay away for good because he understands the inevitable here: Sooner or later, Kobe Bryant turns on everyone.
- Mitch Kupchak
- Kobe Bryant
- Jerry West
- the Lakers